Sunday, September 15, 2013

"What Would It Be Like To Actually Don Their Slippers?": The Fairy Tale Worlds of Caroline Golden

That's No Rabbit (2007; mixed media collage)
[All artwork and images copyrighted to the artist, Caroline Golden, and used here solely for purposes of commentary, i.e., non-commercially].

Caroline Golden is a consummate bricoleur, building worlds of loving intricacy, oblique, enigmatic yet inviting.   Few artists-- Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Le Corbusier, Matisse--work so confidently across so many media, and few-- Paolo Ventura, Cornell, Laurie Simmons-- make the miniature so real.  Golden is expert at combining just the right objects in just the right arrays, to untrammel the exquisite and lodge the viewer in dreamstead.  Come in, she beckons, and we find ourselves unwilling to leave, snuggled into the details of linen-fold, polished porcelain, eclectic veneered surfaces.

Her workshop is itself a place of magpie magic, heaped with oddities and incompletes, cut-outs of eyeballs, hands and teeth piled here and there, a bottomless reserve of unlikely inspiration.  Some of her finds will wait for years for their final juxtapositions-- Golden is a patient weaver.

As I have written elsewhere, but repeat now with amplified application to Golden's work:  Here Bachelard's "poetics of space" meets Tolkien's "elvish craft of Enchantment, the sub-creation of a Secondary World."  Calvino's sixth principle, Visibility, merges with Benjamin's "panoramas, dioramas, cosmoramas...phantasmagorical and fantasmaparastatic experiences, picturesque journeys in a room."

The Rabbit House (2011; mixed media construction)

For more of Golden's fairy tale worlds, her "architectural follies in miniature," her "Invisibles" and "Atlanteans," visit her newly relaunched website.   And now for a conversation with the artist:

Watch Cat (1999; paper collage)

Question 1.  Caroline, your "Many Faces of Alice" gives us a new look, a new take, on the well known heroine.  Why Alice, as opposed to, say, Dorothy, or Lucy in the Narnia adventures (or Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, for that matter)? 

Golden:  Alice is a very old friend.  I first met her in Alice's Adventure Underground when I was a child.
The "Underground" Alice found herself within- a dark, nightmarish and, at times ridiculous layer not far from the surface of what we would term as normal.  Logic and meaning had no place there but she defiantly refused to accept the upside down world for what is truly was. Throughout her journey she never seemed to doubt she would survive her trip down the rabbit hole. I admire Alice’s bravery and perseverance, while she maintains an appreciation for the absurd.  I suppose I consider much of my life as a journey back and forth down a rabbit hole, so Alice will always remain my heroine. 

And The King Replied (1999; collage)

Question 2:  Your approach is enormously painstaking, with long periods necessary for the preparation and construction of your worlds.  Talk to us about your process, walk us through the arc from inspiration to completion.  (Which begs the question: is a work ever really complete?)  

Golden:   In the early 1960's while my father was working for IBM, he brought home a paper model of one of their new computers. This model was printed in hushed tones of green and taupe and the precision of the folds and die-cuts had me mesmerized.  My father was less than thrilled when I used the model as Barbie furniture -but that's another story! Another early memory was at a carnival in Ohio where I watched a man cut into a piece of paper with a tiny pair of scissors to magically release a multi-winged bird. His hand holding the scissors remained stationery while the paper he was cutting danced between the blades - literally "painting" with tiny scissors.   To this day I employ this method of cutting.  I have always been intrigued by the trans-formative qualities of paper.

After college I worked in several ad agencies as a studio artist. Before computers, one had to actually draw out the area to print on a sheet of illustration board and then paste down camera ready text and imagery. The nuanced perception of visuals and text along with the precision of being a paste-up/mechanical artist was the springboard to how I work now - as a collage artist. 

I tend to work in a series. I have a large work area of multiple tables where at times I may have fifteen collages being worked on at once. My work area will eventually become like an archaeological dig as pages are torn, images cut some used, many discarded until I am happy with the end result.  I have some 1500 magazine and old books that are part my palette as well as my own photography and painting along with  tree limbs, mirrors, class, dollhouse furniture, wooden toys, cigar boxes and assortments of objects that are creating quite a storage issue!

The images that I have cut and don't use are stored away in tiny flat file drawers. These drawers contain images I have cut spanning the last fifteen years. For example, I have a drawer of eyes that must contain nearly 500 cut eyeballs or elements that would read as such. I can usually remember where images are filed and where I cut them from, which sometimes stuns me! 

Question 3:  You are so very multi-media and cross-disciplinary.  I was struck by the library of books you have in your studio (not every workshop I am in has so many books!), especially since they include many literary texts, not "just" art books as references...Umberto Eco's book on "Ugliness" is there, a slew of others...

Golden:  I have done quite a bit of reading about Lewis Carroll as well as many commentaries about his Alice books.  More recently I have delved into the history and significance of fairy tales. 

As I began to delve more into fairy tales and Alice - reinterpreting these tales that were such a part of my childhood - I became quite interested in the emotional life of the characters themselves. What would it be like to actually don their slippers? As I mentioned above, my training was in commercial art - where my creativity had very specific goals to sell a product or an ideal - to manipulate.  When I first started collage it was precisely this imagery I chose to cut up, in fact some of the very ads I worked on!  This revolution of sorts heralded a retraining of my eye and outlook. 

Question 4:  "Many Faces of Alice" is both an elaborate physical assemblage and its representation via your new web site.   How do the two reinforce and/or nuance one another?  

Golden:  My website is a selection of "portfolios" from the various series I have created.  Certainly a website to show case one's work is a far cry from a plastic sleeve containing 20 tiny slides!  It is always a challenge to capture art work in a photograph, especially if the piece is multi-dimensional or comprised of many layers, so it still does not take the place of seeing the work in person. It was also very important for me to create an engaging website to explore rather than just an inventory of my work. It was truly a collaborative effort with my website designer - as by default I was a member of the design team. I am very pleased with the results.

In my never ending quest to bring the viewer into my work I ventured into the world of stop animation.  I created a box based on the Rabbit House and, when Alice finds herself trapped within it, titled it Alice's Folly. I have always been intrigued by pop-up paper sculpture and wanted to employ this technique in this piece. The box took over a year to finish and I sure wish I had paid more attention in geometry class! It was completed just in time to be featured on my site upon its launch. 

Question 5:  I love how you bring the viewer right down inside the dramas you have created, putting us on the stage with Alice (as well as fairy tale characters) as it were.  When we spoke earlier, you talked about how you often find smudges of fingers and most likely noses on the glass that contains your two-dimensional works, suggesting to you that viewers are keen to enter (literally) the worlds that you depict.    Why do you think so many of us are drawn so powerfully to the worlds you create?
Golden:  I think most people are as captivated by the magic of miniature as I am. I believe the allure is based on being drawn into a place impossible to set foot in - leading one to want to explore the space all the more. My collages are multi-dimensional and I often create an opening to look within where I've used multi-layered imagery to further draw one in.   Over the last several years my architectural pieces have leapt off the 2-D plane and are 3-D; instead of in a frame, I place them under bell jars. Leaving the interior space absent of any character I leave the viewer to step in and take a look around. They may see a castle tower empty after the damsel as been rescued or Sleeping Beauty’s chamber long after she awakened and her bed stripped of its mattress. They could find themselves in grandmother's house, a claustrophobic depiction where Red Riding Hood met her demise. These collaged constructions are mostly made of paper, disguised to mimic wood shingles, linoleum flooring, plaster walls and wood molding.  With the aid of mirrors I have created additional spaces within, toying with the viewer’s perception of the space actually available for them to explore.
Question 6:  With your new website launched, what is next for "Many Faces of Alice"?

Golden:  I am currently working on a concept for a book based on Alice’s Adventures Underground and am further exploring The Rabbit Hole for inspiration.  The most important aspect of exploring any narrative is realizing "The End" may just be the midpoint of the story and the freedom and possibility remains mine to discover. 
Lobster & Canary:   Thank you Caroline.  Readers:  hie yourselves to the Golden website!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Nighthawks on 23rd Street

Three weeks ago the Whitney installed in "the prow" of the Flatiron a life-size cut-out replica of Hopper's Nighthawks-- an icon within an icon, like a devotional painting housed within an altar.

I work less than a block away, so have been over to see the diners bathed in light over that long counter, under the sign for the 5-cent cigars.

For decades, aficionados have searched for what they believe is THE single model for Hopper's diner, typically looking not far away in the Village.   No luck yet but the Whitney and the Flatiron have, at least, given us the illusion of the search's end.

A place more real than reality, the epitome of that reality captured on canvas, springing to life on our very streets.

I think I will have a slice of pie with my coffee, thank you.